September 14

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Sep 14 - 9:14:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 14, 1767).

“Just opened and now read for Sale, by Jolley Allen.”

A week ago I examined Jolley Allen’s extraordinary full-page advertisement in the September 7, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Given that Allen was prone to inserting the same advertisement in all four Boston newspapers, I noted that he had not placed that particular advertisement in the other two local newspapers distributed on the same day, nor the other one printed later in the week. The expense may have explained Allen’s decision, but space constraints may have played a role as well. The printers may not have been able to accommodate him at that time; after all, other advertisers had also contracted their services. It very well could have been a combination of the two factors, expense and limited space.

Allen’s full-page advertisement did not run a second time in the Boston-Gazette, but the following week a similar advertisement appeared in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy on September 14. In each case, the notice contained the same content, the same extensive list of merchandise, but had been condensed to two columns instead of three. Allen shared the page with other advertisers, reducing both expense and space. While the revised format may not have had the same impact as a full-page advertisement, taking up two columns was still an impressive feat that deviated from the vast majority of newspaper advertisements published in eighteenth-century America. Allen’s advertisement eventually ran in the Massachusetts Gazette, again condensed to two columns, on September 24, two and a half weeks after the full-page advertisement occupied the entire final page of the Boston-Gazette. It continued to appear sporadically in some, but not all, of Boston’s newspapers in October.

The two-column version lacked Allen’s signature decorative border in all three newspapers, but it did add an ornate printing device that flanked Allen’s name (itself printed in larger font than anything else in any of those newspapers, with the exception of the mastheads). In the absence of a border, Allen still managed to achieve visual consistency in his advertisements across three of Boston’s four newspapers.

Jolley Allen, a prolific advertiser, did not merely place notices in newspapers. Instead, he developed marketing campaigns that included advertising in multiple newspapers and consistent use of graphic design elements across those publications. He usually launched new advertisements through simultaneous publication in all of Boston’s newspapers, but the ability to do so with a full-page advertisement in September 1767 eluded him. Various factors may have been at play, yet Allen still managed to devise an advertising campaign of much greater magnitude than anything attempted by his competitors in Boston or his counterparts elsewhere in the colonies.

Bonus: Edward Pole’s Advertising Campaign

Yesterday evening I discovered that the American Antiquarian Society included a newspaper advertisement in its Instagram feed earlier in the day, a delightful surprise made even better by a generous reference to the Adverts 250 Project.  Please visit the AAS Instagram feed to see the advertisement and their commentary.

I was also excited because I recognized the advertiser, Edward Pole, a “Fishing-Tackle-Maker” who also operated a wholesale and retail grocery store in Philadelphia in the 1770s and 1780s.  Unlike most newspaper advertisements featured in the Adverts 250 Project so far, Pole’s advertisement (from fifteen years later, June 1781) included a woodcut to catch readers’ attention:  a striking image of a fish, certainly appropriate for an entrepreneur who peddled fishing tackle.  Woodcuts accompanying newspaper advertisements became more common during the last third of the eighteenth century.  Some advertisers, like Pole, used them as brands for their products and businesses.

Pole’s woodcut probably looked familiar to consumers in Philadelphia in 1781.  It appeared regularly in the Pennsylvania Packet (at least as early as May 1774), but that was not the only newspaper that included a woodcut of a fish with Pole’s commercial notices.  Pole placed advertisements for fishing tackle, including a very similar fish (this time with a decorative border), in the Freemen’s Journal in 1784.

Pole Newspaper Advert
Advertisement from the Freemen’s Journal (March 24, 1784).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition,the savvy Edward Pole made use of multiple advertising media.  He distributed an engraved billhead for his receipts as early as the 1770s.  The billhead’s elaborate engraving featured a triptych logo in the upper left corner of the sheet, complete with rococo-style frames surrounding casks, crates, and scales on the left and right and the words “Edwd Pole’s GROCERY STORE Wholesale & Retail” in the center.  This billhead, with manuscript notations from 1771, is part of the Norris Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the late 1770s or early 1780s, he also distributed engraved trade cards featuring a rectangular vignette of two gentlemen fishing in a stream above a description of the wares stocked in his shop.  Pole eventually resorted to broadsides (or, in modern terms, posters) for his business ventures.

Edward Pole Trade Card
Edward Pole’s Trace Card (ca. 1780).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition to trade cards, billheads, and broadsides, Pole most prolifically advertised in several of Philadelphia’s newspapers, often distinguishing his advertisements from others on the page by including a woodcut of a fish, as we have seen.  Pole’s use of multiple media allowed him to publicize his wares widely.  Most advertisements relied exclusively on newspapers for their marketing, but Pole took an innovative approach by experimenting with other forms as he encouraged potential customers to visit his shop.